Ohio State’s Jim Tressel dug himself into a hole with handling of scandal

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Jim Tressel’s resignation as Ohio State football coach on Memorial Day was sad for all the kids involved but sadder for all the grown-ups.

The school is now in search of a permanent coach and an instructor for a new course called “Crisis Bungling.”

It could be taught next year by Gene Smith, if he’s still the athletic director, and Gordon Gee, if he’s still the president.


Tressel, Gee, Smith — the Three Buckeyeteers — are all in this together.

You expect young people to mess up. It’s what they do. They make mistakes, and often compound them.

The adults are supposed to know right from wrong — especially professorial coaches who wear sweater vests and presidents who fancy bow ties.

On TV, Ward and June Cleaver offer life lessons to Beaver and Wally.

Like a million other scandals dealing with money and power, the cover-up at Ohio State was worse than the crime, and the cover-up for the coach who covered up was even worse.

If only, in this ugly take on “Script Ohio,” Tressel had not dotted the “i” in lie.

Tressel might have survived had he only told the truth when he knew it. He was tipped off in April 2010 that some of his players, including star quarterback Terrelle Pryor, probably violated NCAA rules by accepting extra benefits from a tattoo parlor owner in Columbus.

Tressel could have reported it then, suspended the players for the first five games of last season and the NCAA probably would have accepted it.

It might have cost Ohio State a major bowl bid last season, but what’s that compared with today’s cost?


The first thing they tell you to do when you’re in a hole is stop digging.

Tressel, instead, grabbed the biggest shovel.

Hubris is part of the plague of being one of the most powerful people in town, as Tressel was in Columbus. Control freaks think they can control things. Control freaks with power think they can control everything.

Tressel’s 106 wins in 10 years, 2002 national title and 9-1 record vs. Michigan made him virtually unimpeachable.

It must have made him think he didn’t need to disclose NCAA violations even as he signed a “certificate of compliance” form in September certifying he knew of no violations in his program.

That was grounds right there for his dismissal.

Tressel kept lips zipped in December when the violations became public. He stood by as his players took five-game suspensions for the 2011 season.

His lie was the worst kind — confessed only when discovered by canvassing his emails.

Not only did Tressel know of the violations, having been tipped by Columbus attorney Chris Cicero, he forwarded the information to one of the player’s mentors.

You’d think the adults couldn’t mess it up more than that, but they did.

It was at “Fiasco II,” the March 8 news conference.

School officials, trapped in truth’s corner thanks to a Yahoo story claiming Tressel knew of the violations, announced the coach would be suspended for the first two games next season.


Case closed, matter resolved, now let’s all go our merry way and let Ohio State get back to winning Big Ten titles.

Wait a mind-boggling minute. The players got five games and the coach gets only two?

The news conference was shockingly laughable and an insult to the intelligence of a mollusk. Tressel admitted to a potentially major NCAA violation as the president and AD seemingly pushed for beatification.

“Wherever we end up at the end of the day, Jim Tressel is our football coach,” Smith said March 8.

Asked at one point whether Tressel’s job was in jeopardy, a pretty reasonable question, Gee famously scoffed: “Are you kidding? I just hope the coach doesn’t dismiss me.”

Gee and Smith took everyone for fools — except it was the other way around.

Tressel had the audacity to say he initially didn’t know whom to tell about the violations?

Um, how about your bosses?

In fact, Tressel had told someone — but the wrong someone.

The news conference only raised more questions, which led to more digging, which led to more stories, which led to Monday.


Last week, the campus newspaper weighed in with more allegations involving former Ohio State players.

This week, Sports Illustrated has gone to press with a story penned by an investigative writer who has won a Pulitzer Prize — the Heisman Trophy of our profession.

Because Gee and Smith had already embarrassingly staked their full support for their coach, the only way out was for Tressel to quit.

Guess what: He did.

Smith, in a brief video statement posted on the school’s website, said Tressel had “decided to resign.”

Monday, Gee issued a statement saying, “I have been actively reviewing matters attendant to our football program, and I have accepted Coach Tressel’s resignation.”

Too bad Gee wasn’t “pro” active in this attendant matter.

Smith said the university, as always, will “collaborate with the NCAA and try and find the truth.”


Tressel knew the truth in 2010 but couldn’t spit it out.

Smith and Gee certainly knew it at some point and tried to gloss it over.

Tressel, inevitably, resigned under pressure — but this is only the end of the beginning.

Assistant coach Luke Fickell will take over next season as the school searches for a long-term successor. The juicy names will include Ohio natives Jon Gruden and Urban Meyer and Bo Pelini, but that’s getting way ahead of the collateral cart.

The NCAA is now on the case, and Ohio State may end up with sanctions so serious to scare off the reincarnation of Woody Hayes.

The president and the AD, ultimately, may not survive this.

No matter how powerful you are — or how much money you make — right is right and wrong is wrong.

It may take truth time, but, in the end, it always catches up.

Let that be a lesson to you kids.